“inerrancy doesn’t describe what the Bible does”–some comments from my ETS talk

NEW2Five-Views-on-Biblical-Inerrancy-e1379613921481I could have sworn I posted this months ago, but didn’t. So here it is.

These are my comments I gave at the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore last November as part of the panel discussing the book I contibuted to (along with Al Mohler, John Franke, Michael Bird, and Kevin Vanhoozer), Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Each of us had 15 minutes for some remarks before we began engaging each other.

In retrospect I don’t think much was accomplished–nor could it be–in that setting and at that venue. Neither do I think the volume can have the kind of impact some might have hoped for, since–at least I felt–most of our time was spent staking out territory rather than engaging substantive issues.

If we had had one more pass at each other, I would have asked some pointed questions re: the nature of biblical scholarship and “evangelical biblical scholarship,” especially of Vanhoozer and Bird, as I felt their essays and responses in the volume perpetuated certain idiosyncrasies and apologetic tropes (which I go into in my brief responses to each of them), and I expected a bit more from them (particularly of Bird, as his training is in biblical scholarship).

So, the 15 minute presentation I gave at ETS is my attempt to go a bit more into my view on inerrancy from a slightly different angle to address some general issues that remained for me after the volume had been completed.

It’s a bit longish as a post (2000 words), but I’ve done worse.

********

1. Inerrancy prescribes the Bible–and God–too narrowly

The title of my essay [in the book] is “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.” What I mean is this:

However inerrancy may be defined—whether strictly or in its more nuanced, progressive varieties (both types are represented in this book)—however it is defined, in my opinion inerrancy doesn’t sit well with what I see when I open my Bible and read it.

As I see it, inerrancy prescribes the boundaries of biblical interpretation in ways that creates conflict both inner-canonically and with respect to extra-biblical information. This is why “holding on to inerrancy” (as it is often put) seems to be such a high-maintenance activity, requiring vigilant and constant tending.

This dynamic suggests to me not only that the term may not be an apt descriptor of Scripture, but it virtually guarantees continued unrest within evangelicalism whenever alternate voices are raised.

In my opinion, a strict, literalistic, inerrantist position requires more intellectual isolation that I am not willing to grant—as I’m sure a good number here would agree. A more progressive variety is marked by such things as a true working respect for the Bible’s literary qualities, genres, and historical settings, which tends to temper a strict inerrantist model. But here, too, the ceiling for me remains too low.

If I may play on that spatial metaphor for a moment—strict inerrancy, hermeneutically speaking, is like crawling on my belly through a low and narrow tunnel; progressive inerrancy (and pardon the reductionism) is like wandering though a house—but with 5-foot ceilings.

It’s good to be able to get on my feet, but I can’t stand up straight without hitting my head and after a while my back is so stiff I couldn’t straighten up if I wanted to.

In other words, as I see it, a progressive form of inerrancy (a position voiced by two of our co-authors) still does not provide the room to address the data and give the sorts of answers that I feel are warranted and necessary.

In order to allow for the types of interpretive conclusions, genre designations, and hermeneutical strategies that I am convinced need to be applied to Scripture, I would have to redefine inerrancy in ways that would leave me feeling dishonest—my own Inigo Montoya moment from Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” This is why, beginning in 2007, I discontinued my membership to ETS. Nothing personal.

Perhaps the root theological misgiving for me is that inerrancy prescribes biblical interpretation too narrowly because it prescribes God too narrowly.

The premise all inerrantists hold to on some level—albeit in varying degrees—is that an inerrant Bible is the only kind of book that, logically, God would be able to produce, the only means by which a truth-telling God would communicate.

As I see it, the rhythmic, recurring, generational tensions over inerrancy within evangelicalism are fueled by the distance between this a priori theological expectation about God and how his book should behave, and the persistently non-cooperative details of biblical interpretation.

I think of inerrancy as a model of Scripture. Models are brought forward to explain a set of phenomena. If they do not adequately address the phenomena, then the model ceases having compelling explanatory value, and is usually set aside in favor of others models.

One can refine or nuance any model, to be sure, but how much nuancing can inerrancy handle? And when we keep in mind inerrancy’s function within evangelicalism, which has been essentially defensive, to keep out wrong thinking, then too much nuancing removes many of inerrancy’s teeth.

2. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy prescribes an unworkable model of Scripture

The prescriptive function of inerrancy is showcased in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, both in terms of its own rhetoric as well as in the authority subsequently bequeathed to it in evangelical culture. I feel this prescriptive function has obstructed the kind of critical dialogue clearly surfacing within evangelicalism.

I’d like to mention here just one issue to illustrate: how the Chicago Statement connects truth, God, and Scripture. We find this very early on, in the section entitled “A Short Statement,” which consists of five assertions intended to set parameters for what follows.

The first statement speaks of God “who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only.” This opening premise is critical to the rhetoric of the Chicago Statement: it links inerrancy with the very nature of God, which is, indeed a common defense of inerrancy.

But I am not willing to give this assertion a free ride.

First, it implies that those who critique inerrancy stand in opposition to God himself. This is a conversation-stopper and, if taken to heart, erects a wholly insulated, self-referential system of thought, which is in fact what has happened.

Second, what is missing here, at the outset of the Chicago Statement where it would be most appropriate to include it, is hermeneutical self-consciousnessa reflection on the nature of the truth that God speaks…in ancient texts.

That the Chicago Statement doesn’t give even a nod here to the hermeneutical and theological dimensions of discussing God, truth, and Scripture is more than just a gaping hole: it colors the document from beginning to end and renders it entirely inadequate for engaging the very issues that bring the inadequacies of inerrancy to light.

What should be brought explicitly to the forefront here—at the outset—is the manner in which God speaks in Scripture, namely through the idioms, attitudes, assumptions, and general worldviews of the ancient authors. I know the Chicago Statement makes a subtle overture to this later on, but too ambiguous, too little, and too late.

3. Israel believed in many gods

Consider the phenomenon in the Old Testament: that Israel’s God is not the only deity but one of many.

For example, in Psalm 95 Yahweh’s greatness is proclaimed by means of a comparison with other gods: “Yahweh is the great God, he great king above all gods.”

Job 1-2 and Psalm 82 begin with Yahweh presiding over a divine council. In Job the scene is quickly dominated by “the accuser,” but in Psalm 82 Yahweh is chiding the other gods for not meeting out justice on earth as they should.

And in Exodus 12:12, the last plague is described as Yahweh’s crowning judgment on “all the gods of Egypt.”

Since, as we are told in the Chicago Statement, in Scripture it is God who speaks, and God speaks only truth, and would neither deceive nor mislead us—what are we to conclude? That there are in fact other gods, some of whom are subordinate to Yahweh and others with whom he contends?

One could suggest ad hoc solutions: these aren’t gods but angels or demons or hyperbole. But the Old Testament doesn’t say any of this, and making things up to protect dogma is never a good idea.

God, who (according to inerrantist rhetoric) speaks only truth when telling us about himself, says “gods.” If “days are days” (Genesis 1), floods are floods, dead Canaanites are dead Canaanites, then surely gods are gods.

Right? Shouldn’t the inerrantist logic be followed through to the end?

Or consider Deuteronomy 32:8, where the high god Elyon—known to us also from Ugaritic religion—apportions the nations to the lesser gods, one of whom is Yahweh, whose “portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share”—and so Kemosh gets Moab, Baal gets the Canaanites, and so forth.

(You’ll need to consult a good commentary or study Bible to see this. Early Jewish scribes changed the text to conform to strict monotheistic standards. English Bibles reflect this later “corrected” reading, but without seeing it in translation notes you’d never know it.)

Are we–according to inerrantist logic–bound by Scripture and the truth-telling God who speaks therein to say, therefore, that Israel’s God, like the other gods, is ethnically and geographically bound and answers to a higher authority?

The language of the Chicago Statement is not helpful to me in these instances. What does it mean to speak of these sorts of things as “truth” from God and therefore “inerrant”?

I understand that inerrancy, as it is commonly defended, only pertains to what the Bible teaches or affirms (as some of my co-authors repeat)—but I see a lot of teaching or at least affirming going on here in these verses.

If these texts that tell us about God aren’t at least “affirming” something, I’m not sure what the word means.

I also realize these descriptions of God aren’t everywhere in the Old Testament, but does that really matter? Are we free to “pick and choose” what we want to believe?

These statement are so…clear…God is speaking clearly….if we don’t follow his plain word here, what reason would we have to follow his word anywhere? The next thing we’ll be doing in denying the resurrection.

Forgive the rhetoric. I’m just trying to make a point, and I hope it is not too subtle.

4. Inerrancy doesn’t describe what the Bible does

I don’t think the gods of the ancient Near East exist, nor did our God ever preside over a heavenly board meeting, nor was he ever under the authority Elyon.

I do believe, however, that the ancient Israelites believed that, but that does not mean that their belief at this moment in redemptive history represents absolute “spiritual reality” so to speak.

Now why do I say that? It’s not because I disrespect the Bible. I have two reasons.

One reason is the New Testament. A canonical view leads us further along the biblical plot line, so to speak, and so I believe that there is one God not many (a view that is already echoed in other portions of the Old Testament).

Scripture is varied and on the move, and so for inner-biblical reasons alone, I don’t expect every part of Scripture—even those parts that talk about God—to provide absolute, unerring, truth.

The second reason is what we know through historical and archaeological work about the ancient tribal environment in which the ancient Israelites participated. Understanding something about the world of the Bible can help us here.

The way God is described in Job or the Psalms, etc., makes perfect sense in that cultural context. But the opening assertion of the Chicago Statement, that God “who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only” –that seems off topic to me, words not designed to address what we are seeing here.

I apply this same sort of thinking to the three issues discussed in our book, especially two of them—the historicity of the fall of Jericho and God’s command to exterminate the Canaanites.

To understand both I appeal to (1) the gospel movement away from tribal thinking about God, and (2) to archaeological and literary data from Israel’s cultural context.

This is why I draw the rather common, almost mundane, conclusion (and you have to read my essay in the book to get the details) that the stories of Jericho and Canaanite extermination are (1) not “historical” in any sense that we normally use the word, nor do they (2) provide a binding, permanent, absolute picture of God.

I can certainly understand and respect why ancient Israelites would speak this way. But, like the issue of many gods in the Old Testament, this doesn’t mean that the Jericho and Canaanite extermination episodes are the final word historically or theologically.

I do not believe I am dismissing the Old Testament, nor is this (for heaven’s sake!) dualistic Marcionism, which says the Gods of the Old Testament are two different Gods. I am not saying there are two gods; one God is the God of Scripture. But God is portrayed differently by the biblical writers at different times and places.

Within the Old Testament God is already portrayed in diverse ways. In the Gospel, Christians believe, the fuller gaze on God is provided through the Gospel.

Acknowledging this diverse portrait of God, especially when getting to the New Testament, is simply an aspect of grappling with “Bible in context” and the canonical complexity of the problem of continuity and discontinuity between the testaments.

And doing so is simply to participate in the Christian theological project that has been part of the church’s consciousness since Paul and the Gospel writers–what do we do with the story of Israel in light of the Christ event? This isn’t anything new.

5. An “Incarnational Model” is more helpful

For me, inerrancy or the Chicago Statement don’t come close to addressing this fundamental hermeneutical challenge for Christian readers of the Bible.

I do continue to think, however, that an incarnational model of Scripture is helpful. It’s not new. I didn’t invent it. Some form of it goes back at the very least to Athanasius. And no one, least of all me, is claiming by this analogy I am claiming a hypostatic union in Scripture (!!).

It’s an analogy—explaining one thing by means of another. The main purpose of this analogy is to present a vision of Scripture where historical context ceases being such a huge doctrinal hurdle, a problem to be solved, and becomes yet another picture of how God willingly and lovingly participates in the human drama.

It provides theological language for why the Bible acts so…ancient, why we see the use of mythic language and concepts in the Old Testament—a heavenly boardroom scene—or why Israel’s God is portrayed as a tribal warrior for whom mass killings seem to be his preferred method of conflict resolution.

I don’t think inerrancy is the right category for wrapping my arms around Scripture’s complex dynamic.

But a God who is in the business of meeting us where we are (this is good news) and a Scripture that displays for us this energetic, relentless—and mysterious—interplay of the Spirit of God and ancient cultures…well, I’m not saying I get it. And I do understand this thought may be troubling, to some more than others.

But as C. S. Lewis puts it, the incarnation is after all “an incurably irreverent doctrine.” It’s not comfortable. It’s even a bit unsettling when we think of how God likes to show up.

An incarnational model is not the only or best way to think of the Bible at all times. But when the topic turns to historical matters—the core of our book and heart of the inerrancy debate—it at least gives me theological language by which to talk about what I see in Scripture with respect and awe.

To sum up, inerrancy for me is a model of Scripture that does not describe well what Scripture does. Perhaps in our current moment, God is not calling us to reinvigorate a defense, become entrenched, or formulate more complex and subtle defenses of what we feel the Bible needs to be, but to teach future generations—in the academy, the church, and the world—better ways of meeting God in the Scripture we have.

open letter to the apostle Paul from a concerned reader
does an inerrantist culture "do good or do harm"?
on being a mouthpiece of satan
do inerrantist biblical scholars employ "protective strategies" and "privilege insider claims"? -- a new article you'll want to read.
  • Robert

    Great article! Very spiritually enlightening. Thanks for such an in-depth analysis, Mr. Enns. Most critiques of inerrancy are not as intellectually sound, detailed, well reasoned, and well presented. I learned much from this article – answers and analysis I’d been seeking a long time. Thank you.

  • Brian Drawbaugh

    Thanks for the recap. ETS/SBL is so much info in so little time that it is hard to digest. Guess I need to use those “molars” you mentioned :)

  • Guest

    I just finished this book and am about to blog about inerrancy so this is timely. I can definitely resonate with a lot of what you are saying. But I do have a few questions:

    1. One of the primary concerns that inerrantists have is that if we say some parts of Scripture are true and other parts err, then we are left to human judgment to pick and choose what we think is true. This could lead to a couple of problems: a) diminished view of the authority of Scripture for faith and practice and 2) genuinely problematic theologies and doctrines since picking and choosing adds a greater element of subjectivity. How would you address this concern?

    2. In what way do you see the Bible is true? The incarnational model is good in many respects, but can also be problematic (I have to agree with some of the criticism even though you are not taking it as a kind of hypostatic union). In the incarnation Jesus is perfect. His humanity entered into culture and had weakness, but not error. So, I understand what you are doing with this model, but the analogy doesn’t flesh out how you understand Scripture as God’s truth, if it has non-Jesus human being authors and errors. You suggest we see the Bible as we see Jesus, and yet, that would logically lead to inerrancy. I understand the analogy is not perfect, but I don’t have a sense in how you address this problem.

    3. What role does the Old Testament play for the Christian in faith and practice? Do these narratives of exodus and conquest mean anything? In what sense are they revelation from God? If they are revelation at all, what truth was God revealing to the Israelites at that time?

    4. What do you do with the violence in Revelation given your progressive revelation view seems to suggest a trajectory away from violence. Jesus speaks of a violent judgment also.

    5. The impact of inerrancy doctrine has often caused silencing of inquiry as you note, and has played a role in church politics. What would be the outcome of your view? Ideas have impact. In what practical ways has your view affected your own theology and doctrine on other issues pertinent to Christian life? Inerrantists will say their view has difficulties, but that its better than the outcome if we forsake it. Is there any truth to that?

    I do have to say that even in this post, I see more engagement with the Mohler understanding of inerrancy. I would love to see you address in more detail other forms of inerrancy along the lines of Vanhoozer and Bird.

    • peteenns

      Karen, I address at least some of these issues at http://iandibook.com.

      • Karen

        I have your book Inspiration and Incarnation, and I have read it. I will look through it again. However, these are questions that I have noticed still come up post-publication of your book or even in response to it. I realize these are weighty questions and not easily answered in a quick blog comment, if for nothing else than lack of time. But I do hope you will address them at some point. I will look through your book again, but it would be helpful for understanding your perpective to have more pointed and direct answers to these questions.

      • Guest

        Actually, I see now that there are other links here in response to critics as well. I will read through those and see what I find. Thanks!

    • J. Inglis

      A problem with no. 1 above is that it ignores the fact that everyone already does pick and choose. Fundamentalists do it, as do evangelicals and liberals–it’s just that each group contends that their picking and choosing is legitimate and the others are illegitimate.

      Furthermore God is logos, it is part of his nature to be rational, orderly, logical and to use language. The Bible is God’s “Word” and his word. God therefore expects us to use our own God given and God imaging faculties of rational thought to understand the Bible–which is written by Him in a human language to communicate to humans in their language in the way that humans communicate.

      A problem with no. 2 is that the following statement is neither a logical syllogism nor true: “You suggest we see the Bible as we see Jesus, and yet, that would logically lead to inerrancy.” Jesus was perfect in spirit, in sinlessness but not in body. His original body got sick, got hurt, got hungry, etc. and was REPLACED by a better body: his resurrection body. In a like manner the Bible can be “sick, hurt, hungry” while still containing the Word of God.

      The same is true of the Bible. It is not God’s full or complete revelation–the old testament saints never saw what they hoped for and didn’t understand it. Paul says that even now we only see darkly. The Bible will be replaced with actual direct experience of the living God.

      The Bible is the “this world” embodiment of God’s revelation just as Jesus’ first body was the “this world” embodiment of his spirit. A “this world” embodiment is an imperfect flawed embodiment in a fallen world. It’s good enough for this world, and indeed all that is possible in this world, but it’s not good enough for the world to come.

      • Guest

        J. Inglis, thanks for sharing your thoughts. While I see your point re: #1, I do think there is a distinction between 1) picking and choosing as a result of hermeneutics (i.e. its all true and we are discerning that truth via imperfect interpretation) versus 2) picking and choosing because we are actually cataloguing certain passages or verses as true or false. Presumably one outcome of the second would be a greater tendency to discard certain sections of Scripture and never revisit them since they are in error and not worth our time, while the former suggests the possibility of still engaging with the text and gleaning from it, perhaps even revising our interpretations.

        As for #2–I made a distinction in my original post between weak flesh and error. Those are not the same thing. And in your description, you don’t seem to be describing error. You seem to be describing weakness in the form of a “glass darkly.” Having revelation as a glass darkly or even the concept of progressive revelation is not the same thing as error.

        By the way, I am not trying to make any assertions in my questions as much as analyzing certain views of inerrancy such as what Enns has proposed and weighing their merits. I am still processing my own views on how I might suggest we think about the concept of inerrancy. But I do have a sense of where I think there are shortcomings in existing views.

        • J. Inglis

          Karen K., I’m sorry if I came across as suggesting that you were wrong. Your comments had me thinking and so I wrote out some of my reflections. To continue my reflections,

          I don’t see the distinction you are making. Both aspects involve hermeneutics, that is, the interpretation of language. Moreover, we are always and necessarily using human judgment when making interpretations–which is as God intended (since he gave us both language that needs interpreting and the requisite faculties of interpretation). What I see as very problematic is deciding in advance on the particular kind of truth that we must find in the Bible and asserting that all of the Bible is of that kind (i.e., none of the Bible errs in any respect), and THEN going to the Bible to do hermeneutics that is restricted by this apriori assertion of human judgment.

          What is better is to let the Bible (that is, God) speak for itself as to the kind of truth present in it, and which things are true.

          One cannot escape human judgment, we can never achieve the vantage point of the “outside”, the “completely objective”. The judgment that no writer of the Bible could ever be in error about an historical fact is itself a human judgment–and one that humans obviously disagree about (because some hold different judgments on that point).

          As to point no. 2, to clarify: I meant that if Jesus physical body could be injured and even die and is obviously not the final perfect body of the resurrection, then the Bible could also be less than perfect–and its frailty could even encompass historical error.

          • Guest

            You write: “What is better is to let the Bible (that is, God) speak for itself as to
            the kind of truth present in it, and which things are true.”

            I would have to disagree that the Bible is synonymous with God. And if the Bible were synonymous with God, then everything in it is by default true. Also I don’t believe the Bible speaks for itself. We interpret the Bible.

            As for #2, we will have to agree to disagree. I do not conflate injury or death or frailty as synonymous with falsehood (error).

          • John

            I would actually posit that #1 represents a false binary.

    • http://prochaskas.wordpress.com/ Marcy

      I share your #3 especially, especially the last three questions.

  • WonkishGuy

    Excellent post!

    One question: do you think it would be possible for evangelicalism to adopt that understanding of the Bible? My experience (and I suppose yours too) is that this perspective is unwelcome in the vast majority of evangelical churches and institutions, which is the main reason I started attending a mainline church.

    I suspect that if you asked the average evangelical the differences between them and other Christians, “we really believe the Bible” would be very high on the list. The standard narrative is: liberals started attacking the Bible and rejecting orthodoxy. The early fundamentalists were basically right, but the movement became too isolated and legalist. Then, we came and got it just right with generous orthodoxy. But, for many, rejection of “liberal” higher criticism seems part and parcel of that orthodoxy.

    It seems that things are moving and more people are willing to accept that perhaps the first few chapters of Genesis are not historical, but I doubt that many would be willing to countenance the idea that perhaps the Exodus and the Conquest did not happen as in the Bible. I wonder if accepting that kind of idea is not such a major shift that evangelicalism would not be evangelicalism anymore.

    • Brian P.

      From what I know, the stories of Genesis, Exodus, and the Conquest are not that historical. The faith and its people and processes that gave me these stories as historically true, also gave me the story of the Resurrection as historically true. Much conversation seems quite unwelcome in the vast majority of Evangelical churches and institutions.

      • Rick

        Even if they are “not that historical”, that does not necessarily mean they have a bearing on the Resurrection as history. Different genres, different contexts, different time periods.

        • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

          The Pentateuch stories (or other OT accounts) may not have direct bearing on accounts of the Resurrection but they are not irrelevant by any means. The style of Hebrew Scripture-writing (midrash) is largely carried over in Gospel-writing (though they were in koine Greek, with Greek influences beyond language). And when the Gospel Resurrection accounts are taken within their genre and contexts, they definitely cannot be taken as historical accounts…. This, however, does not entirely falsify them, either. But they are part of literary works with theological purpose, not anything close to reporting as we now know it. And not written as history.

          • Brian P.

            Yup.

          • Rick

            I did not say irrelevant, but one needs to be careful about trying to equate one with the other.

          • Rick

            And let me say that we need to be careful not to underestimate the historical nature of the Gospels. Theological? Yes. Different than the historical writing we are accustomed to? Yes. But still represent a strong historical aspect? Yes.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Good points Howard . . you cited the point about genre and Resurrection narratives more succinctly and eloquently than I attempt to!

        • Brian P.

          Understood. Similarities. Differences. I believe I was principally referring to the people and processes, not the texts and their genres and periods of authorship and/or concern.

  • Brian P.

    Here’s something much better than, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_t3uDVPiRc

    • peteenns

      Indeed. Good one.

      • Brian P.

        Much symbolism in a quest to revenge the death of a killed Father.

  • Randy

    To be honest, Peter, I disagree with the majority of what you wrote about the inerrancy of the Word of God. But I would have to write an excessive amount of words and I really don’t have the time. However, I will point out one flaw. Israel did not believe in many gods. They knew that Jehovah was the one true God. I, myself, could make the statement, “I believe that God is the great God above all the Egyptian gods.” That doesn’t mean I believe that the Egyptian gods are real and actually existed. Your argument is a straw-man fallacy. You are reading too much in it that really isn’t there. Thanks for the article, though. It helps me defend my faith in the inerrant, infallible, inspired, and preserved Word of God, the King James Bible.

    • J. Inglis

      Since we can’t talk with an actual ancient Israelite–they being dead and all–your comments about what they thought are necessarily speculative. Furthermore, you are projecting what you would think and say and mean onto them–the height of folly.

      All we have for data is what is recorded–by an author with his own (and God’s) agenda. What we do know is that Israelites actually worshipped many other God’s, including Baal and Molech and Asherah. God punished them (by letting them reap the evil they sowed) many times for this worship, and even let them be killed for such worship. Why would an Israelite worship another god unless he/she believed that the god was real?

      The data does not support your hypothesis (supposition, speculation, etc.), but does support the hypothesis that the Israelites did believe that there were other gods.

      The Bible also tells us directly, as well as by its character, that it is progressive revelation–God revealed more about himself and the world he made as time went by. Therefore it is more reasonable to believe that God’s early revelation of himself as creator of all, and as most powerful, in the context of universal belief in other gods (spiritual beings demanding or deserving of worship), resulted in the Israelites still believing in other gods but also now believing that God the father (Yahweh, El) was the supreme deity.

      Later revelation, as in hundreds or thousands of years later, by God revealed that these other gods were not only powerless but were subservient spiritual beings that did not deserve worship (e.g., “demons”, “fallen angels”) and thus false and so far down the totem pole that they could not even rightly be called gods. In that later context, with that later revelation of who God is and what his inherent nature is, it could then be said that there are no other “gods”, because there are none even remotely like the being who is God–he is so incomparable that he is one of a kind.

      One can only make your speculative interpretation of Israelite belief if one imports his/her own present day beliefs back into the time, place and culture of ancient Israelites. What you speculate is not, in fact, what God has revealed to us about his workings back then.

      • David

        I think the important phrase that addresses your point is this one: “God, who (according to inerrantist rhetoric) speaks only truth when
        telling us about himself, says “gods.” If “days are days” (Genesis 1),
        floods are floods, dead Canaanites are dead Canaanites, then surely gods
        are gods.”

    • Brian P.

      At Peniel, at least in the height of the moment, I’m sure he believed in one and only one God. But I’m not sure if he knew it was a God, angel, or man. Or even something within.

    • http://www.justinboulmay.wordpress.com/ Justin Boulmay

      Randy, I disagree with your statement that Israel didn’t believe in many gods. How many times does Scripture tell us Israel worshipped other deities? They clearly believed those beings to exist, or they wouldn’t have departed from worshipping the true God.

      • John

        I think Randy is a Poe, who is trying to be humorous by pointing out how foolish some inerrantists sound by deliberately contradicting the text. However, I don’t think it would be fair to people like Vanhoozer to lump all inerrantists together.

        • tearfang

          indeed even if you did lump them all together, it would still not be fair :p
          Unless of course you think most inerrantists are KJV onlyists. But even the term JKV onlyist, is itself, an inaccurate and misleading term, since they are really LXX preservationists.

    • Stuart Blessman

      KJV Onlyism is so much fun…

      Also, it’s “King James Version”. There is no King James Bible. Won’t fall for that rhetoric.

      • Randy

        It definitely is fun! Praise the Lord for the King James BIBLE!

    • Daniel Fisher

      I once worked in a Christian bookstore – a lady came in and asked for a King James Version Bible…. IN GERMAN.

      It was to be a gift for her mother that only spoke/read German…. but of course it had to be a King James Version. No matter how I tried to explain it, I was never able to get her to understand why this was simply an impossibility.

      • peteenns

        But hey, if it was good enough for Peter and Paul. And who knows, being inspired by the Spirit, can we say they didn’t know German? I’m tired of your critical scholars and your assumptions :-)

      • Mark K

        Thanks for the out-loud belly laugh.

  • RG

    This is a really bad argument. You’re saying that Israel’s incorrect beliefs is proof the Bible has errors. Why? That makes no sense.

    Furthermore, you try to make an archeological argument, when we know even today that there was a massive Semitic migration into Egypt that causes the Second Intermediate period of Egypt. Most ancient scholars believed this group was whom the Jews came from, and they even give population counts of hundreds of thousands of families which match biblical records, such as Josepehus in Against Apion

    Seriously dude. You’re speaking in assumptions and agendas. The worse of your argument is your attempt to call the bible wrong because the people it talks about are wrong. God is to be believed. The stated beliefs of men do not make the bible in error any more than a history book saying Stalin thought Hitler was his friend would be an error. No, that’s not an error. That’s reporting.

    • Fly

      So if days are days and gods are gods what exactly do the numerous references to other gods entail if not the sincere (yet incorrect) belief of the authors?

      • Rick

        I am not saying you are wrong, but this is where questions, such as “what is being affirmed?”, come into play. Hence, the perhaps the defining of inerrancy does suffer/die from “1,000 qualifications.”

      • RG

        Gods could include men in Hebrew. Psalms uses the word for gods to describe believers, which Jesus paraphrases in John 10. So there were many gods. And YHWH was the god of these gods.

        • peteenns

          RG, The “gods” mentioned in Ps 82 are not men, nor are they in the many of the passages where “gods” are a given in the OT.

          • RG

            But Jesus says they are men in John 10. Isn’t Jesus a good source to interpret Psalm 82?

            I’m not saying all gods are men, nor am I saying that every time the word is used it means men. But Jesus says that, at least for Psalm 82, it is men. Does that mean all gods are men? That’s debatable. I’d argue that most “gods” in the OT who are worshiped are probably great men whose life tales were exaggerated and became myth. On the other hand, there are examples within Jewish tradition in which forces of nature are treated as gods, such as the tale of Nimrod and Abraham in which Nimrod tests Abraham to worship a force of nature, and Abraham asks if he should worship, then, the force of nature which extinguishes it.

            That means for me that there are three kinds of gods. Those whom come from stories of men who did great things, anthropomorphized forces of nature, and those, as Jesus says, received the word of God and were called gods by God.

          • peteenns

            Jesus isn’t saying that Ps 82 says they are men. Jesus is also interpreting his Psalm, as he interprets Scripture elsewhere (as do Paul, Gospel writers, etc.), very creatively as was the convention in 2nd Temple Judaism.

          • RG

            “You are gods”. That’s the phrase. You’re going to have to tell me why I shouldn’t read this literally, or why Jesus’ interpretation is incorrect. You telling me that it isn’t men seems to me in direct contradiction to Jesus, and I need more information as to why I should read it any other way.

    • http://prochaskas.wordpress.com/ Marcy

      Is there really evidence of such a massive migration? I would like to read about it. Is there likewise any evidence of the later exodus? Can you point me to any sources on this stuff?

      • Collins

        I am not aware of the evidence that RG is talking about (though I am not an ancient near eastern scholar). Pete Enns actually has a pretty good paper about it that I read a while back and found informative: http://peterennsonline.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/exodus-and-the-problem-of-historiography-rr-new-version-final-dec-05.pdf

        • http://prochaskas.wordpress.com/ Marcy

          Thank you!

        • RG

          Hyksos immigration. Collapse of local ecology caused Semitic people to seek shelter elsewhere. Hyksos were a Semitic group that basically invaded Egypt and set up their own governing. Egypt entered the 2nd intermediate period and it took two Pharaohs, a father and son, to kick them out of the country.

      • RG

        The Hyksos migration, or invasion depending on your perspective, which launched Egypt into the second intermediate period and took a father and son Pharaoh a generations-long war to repulse. Josephus writes that it was these whom founded Jerusalem.

        • peteenns

          RG, for the record, I know of no reputable, trained, biblical scholar or archaeologist who thinks the Hyksos invasion supports the historicity of the biblical account of Israel enslaved in Egypt. It MAY later play into the later Israelite scribes and their “historical memory,” but that is entirely speculative and another thing entirely. But there is absolutely NO evidence–by which I mean direct evidence–for a mass influx of Israelites, peaceful let alone military.

          • RG

            Well, “Israelite” as a term, so much as we know, didn’t exist at that time.
            So why would I be looking for that phrase in archeology? I’d instead
            have to go with what they were called by those writing about them. Semitic people at that time were called Hyksos. But even then, that’s not a people. It’s a title, I think, from Egyptian “heqa khaseshet” which just means foreign rulers. So, the absence of calling them Israelite is not evidence that Israelite were not amongst them.

            This
            happens often in language. For example, Egypt is not called Egypt in Egypt. It’s called Miṣr in Arabic, and Mitzrayim in Hebrew. So if I was going to go look up that country or people in ancient texts, why would I look for the word Egypt? That word didn’t exist back then so much as I know. And no mention of “Egypt” does not meant a people called Mitzrayim fulfill all expectation of who and what we call Egypt.

            So, looking through the ancient histories and texts, I find Josephus, in “Against Apion”, mention these people as the founders of Jerusalem, and that their population when they were exiled were several hundred thousand families. He also says that it took two generations to kick them out of the land. This matches scripture pretty spot on, and is in the time period I’d expect to find the exodus to be during. That’s a lot of evidence, for me, that they likely included the people whom eventually would come to be called Jews/Israelis.

          • peteenns

            The Egyptians called them “asiatics” not Semites. Semites were not called ‘Hyksos.” There is no EVIDENCE of Israelites in Egypt. The “asiatics” (Hyksos) were foreign with very non-Israelite ideas of religion (that much we do know).

            Again, who are you reading? Where are you getting all this?

          • RG

            Your arguing from your working framework, but that framework makes no sense. The term “Israelite” did not exist at that time. So why would there be any evidence of Israelite? But when a people from Asia who are known as Shepard kings, who worship a god of storms and weather (A common Canaanite motif), and whom ancient writers say were expelled to Canaan, exist, that’s pretty much Exodus right there and I find it hard for you to say that there’s no evidence of Israel, or they had no similarities to Israelite religion (which hey, which definition of “Israelite religion” are you working with? The polytheistic warring people before the exile, or the monotheistic organized religion post-exile?) Your argument is like so: A culture exists which seems in every way to be what one would expect to see from exodus to be the Israelites, but because the name Israel isn’t there, there’s 0% there Israelite. huh? How so? You need to explain this to me more. You can’t just say there’s no evidence when that’s there.

            Ultimately, this is before the title “Israelite” existed. So why would I be looking for evidence of Israelites? I would be looking for evidence of Semitic people who, in several centuries, would become what we call Israelites. To whom, these Shepard kings seem to be.

          • peteenns

            People are free to believer as they wish, but as I said, I would encourage you to read more broadly, esp. from scholars who work in these fields. You’re giving away a lot, it seems, or maybe I’m reading you the wrong way. I actually think what much later became the nation of Israel had at least partly come from some Egyptian trek. Feel free to call them Canaanites, though that is conjecture. Israelite origins are complex, but whatever evidence you think you can marshall is not for the biblical portrait of Israelite origins but for a seriously minimalist version, one that critical scholars of many different stripes have no trouble acknowledging.

          • RG

            It’s mostly because I don’t regard the “Israelite” as who we think of them today until after the exile. Seriously, they didn’t even use the modern alphabet Jews use today until after that. Prior to the exile, they were more or less a polytheistic band of warring nation states. After the exile, they were as we know them more or less today.

          • peteenns

            OK, I think I understand better where you are coming from now. Thanks for clarifying. I mistakenly thought at first that you thought the Hyksos issue was evidence of the historicity of the biblical storyline as given.

            I would add (and would presume that you would agree) that Israel’s stories as we know them now were largely a product of that exilic/postexilic period, and though certainly transmitting older traditions, also augmented and adapted them for their present context. Which brings us back to “Israelite” origins as cultural memory, etc.

    • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

      RG, I take it that you are prepared, then, to sort out in every statement of anything historical (or potentially so) OR theological, whether the Bible is affirming the given point or not. I’m not sure how you (or anyone) is going to figure out in which cases Israel’s beliefs were incorrect and in which they were correct… that is without opening up all the many controversies an “inerrant” Bible is supposed to settle. Good luck with THAT project!

      • RG

        This should be easy. If Israel says something and God corrects them, then Israelis wrong. Why are you regarding such a thing as difficult?

        Deeper, I’ve been learning Hebrew, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian culture and story telling traditions to try and learn more discernment. From this, I think I can say that things such as Leviathan are probably representative of nations, seeing as that’s what beasts traditionally are used for in imagery. I’d even go so far as to say the Genesis narrative is in part more poetic. But why people then assume that Adam and Eve never existed and a Serpent wasn’t really there, I have no clue. That is, as is the case often, an assumption made from our own literary traditions and culture. It’s kind of a bad approach. Closest analogy I can think of is how we have stories, quite mythical, of George Washington and a Cherry Tree. This, however, does not make George Washington, his character traits, or Cherry Trees, mythical. And to assume such is quite frankly a really stupid move on the part of the assumer.

        I cannot claim to know everything in that regard. But already I have uncovered plenty of material to help discern what is myth, what is history, and what is blurred inbetween. Besides, plenty of Church Fathers wrote for generations on these matters. While their opinions do not always match up, people are not required to be correct on everything if they are correct on one thing, nor wrong on all things if they are wrong on one thing.

        • peteenns

          Were are you learning all this, RG? I never know how quite to put this, but I do this for a living and I’m not really sure what you’re getting at or where you’re getting it from? Whoa re you reading? Are you a student somewhere?

          • RG

            I was and am a student of architecture. In undergrad I read myths for fun and now a days in grad school I read histories of ancient people for fun. I’m getting it mostly from them, but I often go through modern archeology as it’s more reliable obviously. But if I fell something is assumed or makes no sense, I’ll look into the more ancient ideas. And of course, the bible. I mean when Daniel uses animals to represent nations and powers, I assume that this is a standard God will use throughout scripture in his revelation. It seems ok, then, for me to interpret the seprent in Genesis, or Leviathan, or other beasts of seemingly mythological nature, to likely be representative of nations or powers or forces. Be they Satan himself, his subjects whose minds he has captured, or something else.

          • peteenns

            You seem like s very curious and bright person. I guess I would suggest you read broadly in biblical scholarship to get a rounder picture.

          • RG

            I certainly will. But sometimes these matters of history partial or assumptive. I just can’t ignore similarities.

    • J. Inglis

      Except that it’s not written as reportage. Nor are the writers selfconsciously acting as reporters.

  • Jeff Miller

    I imagine this was very popular and enthusiastically well-received at ETS. :-)

    • peteenns

      Imagination is a good thing, Jeff.

  • Mark K

    Pete, do you sit around and think up ways to stir the pot, or are you just naturally gifted at it? ;-)

    Seriously, thanks for pressing some of the issues to their natural conclusions. Helps me to think them through in honest ways, which helps me get closer to answers to the questions I’ve been asking for some time.

    • peteenns

      It’s not hard to stir up the pot, Mark. Just say, “I think that the Bible…” and no matter what you say, someone wants your head.

      • Brian P.

        I think that the Bible brings out the best and worst in people.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Very helpful Pete. Glad you dug this post out! The key key idea is expressed in this sentence “Perhaps the root theological misgiving for me is that inerrancy prescribes biblical interpretation too narrowly because it prescribes God too narrowly.” Imagining a small God – a God too much like us, is a terrible handicap. Paraphrasing Michael Hardin in “The Jesus Driven Life” citing Raymund Schwager, “We get the God we believe in”.

  • Daniel Fisher

    “God, who (according to inerrantist rhetoric) speaks only truth when telling us about himself, says ‘gods.’…. surely gods are gods.”

    (And God who speaks only truth in the New Testament also says “Artemis”… The book of Acts after all claimed that people were worshiping Artemis – And God is speaking truth, so surely Artemis is Artemis! So Luke obviously must have believed in these other gods!)

    This is one of those perfect examples I notice of critical scholars insisting (almost like a stereotypical fundamentalist!) on the most woodenly literalistic interpretation, since any understanding or interpretation that allows for some nuance in perspective, language, etc., would significantly mitigate the perceived difficulty.

    Besides, as others have noted, who would deny that other nations had other gods? I’m a strict trinitarian and my use of language has nuance enough for referring to the way my Hindu friends worship their gods…. It is beyond dispute that Israel itself fell into worship of numerous other gods. At minimum, there is an acknowledgement that these other gods exist at least in the worship of individuals and nations.

    Beyond that, I would have no issue with acknolwedging that these may well have been real “gods”: real, genuine spiritual beings of significant power and influence in the world – beings for which the word “god”, in general, is perfectly appropriate – and which later language and perspective developed the different language of demons, etc. Besides Peter’s assertion that it simply is so, I am not seeing the evidence that this is in any way an “ad hoc” solution.

    After all, how seriously different is the OT language from Paul’s admonition that participating in pagan worship (i.e., pagan “gods”) is to participate in a table with demons…? Is Paul guilty of this ad hoc argument too?

    • Derek

      Amen. You said this better than I could have. Thanks!

    • toddh

      I don’t think that saying OT gods = NT demons really solves the issue. Read the verses again that are mentioned in the post, and substitute NT demons for OT gods. Does that line up at all with the way the NT talks about Jesus and demons, or even current popular evangelical thought about demons? It sounds like a plausible explanation given Paul’s argument in Romans, but ultimately that line of thinking makes no sense with what’s actually written in the OT.

    • peteenns

      Daniel, I beginning to think that your engagement of “critical scholarship” is a bit second hand with some of the sweeping statements you seem to make and with your easy accepting of your own musings on biblical problems (“I see no reason why….”). We can all make up explanations that seem good to us, but as a scholar, my bar is whether I can fruitfully engage a larger discipline.

      As for Israel and other gods, your explanation is ad hoc and works perhaps in private. There’s roughly a century of scholarship out there that would challenge you to see things differently. And the difference between ancient Israel’s assumptions about multiple gods existing and Paul’s utterance is indeed a “serious” difference.

      But more importantly, in the part of my post that you quoted, you seemed to have read this in meliorem partem. I was simply stereotyping the common conservative argument (“inerrantist rhetoric”) that when the Bible says X, it means X. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I wouldn’t have to work

      • Mark K

        You have to work?

      • Lennie

        If you remove the literal, wooden “gods means gods” that you say you used only as a stereotype and allow for the unexplored and uninvestigated possibilities. then most declared contradictions by liberal scholarship evaporate and therefore allow for the possibility of the traditional inerrant model. I don’t know anyone who “has it all figured out” besides One, but I believe the inerrantist is closer to harmony with revealed and actual Truth.

        • Daniel Fisher

          Precisely! Without embracing the same wooden literalism that is usually ascribed to fundamentalists, so many of these claimed contradictions just wouldnt be there. This, at core, is why I so distrust the critical model… Largely because it seems to utilize such “uncritical” methods in order to discover or establish these errors or contradictions.

      • Richard Worden Wilson

        So, Pete, when you say “We can all make up explanations that seem good to us, but as a scholar,
        my bar is whether I can fruitfully engage a larger discipline,” are you suggesting that what you can say is constrained by what the “larger discipline” is able to accept? I have been inclined to think that you were more of an independent thinker than that. I do appreciate your willingness to engage in conversations with us pedants nevertheless. 8>)

    • J. Inglis

      Daniel, I’m having trouble following your argument. Are you speaking from an inerrantist viewpoint?

      And I’m not sure that you have followed Enns’ argument. You write, “This is one of those perfect examples I notice of critical scholars
      insisting (almost like a stereotypical fundamentalist!) on the most
      woodenly literalistic interpretation”, but Enns’ is not taking a woodenly literalistic stance himself. He is, rather, pointing out that the woodenly literalistic view of inerrantists is problematic because it leads to the view that the gods spoken of in the OT really are gods in the same sense that Yahweh is god. And that result is in opposition with other statements in scripture that there are no other gods but Yahweh. Consequently, the literalist inerrant perspective leads one to conclude both that there are gods and that there are not gods–that both A and not-A are true, a logical contradiction.

      So, are you taking the view that inerrantism is an adequate view of the Bible? Or are you not an inerrantist but think that Enns’ argument on that point (gods, no gods) is misplaced or wrong?

      If you are the former, then you seem to be making the same error that Enns accuses his co-authors of: inconsistently and inaccurately applying the inerrantist literalist hermeneutic and apriori assertion that the Bible only contains one sort of truth is also that all of the Bible is of that sort of truth (modern historical truth and no modern historical errors anywhere). You also seem to be taking the escape route that Enns claims is inadequate: that the OT gods were demons (evil spirit beings).

      If I get Enns’ point, it is that the early OT asserts that God-Yahweh is but one of many equivalent beings (e.g., Molech, Baal), and that all of these equivalent beings exist (i.e., they all have the same ontological status and weight). Hence, if these OT authors make that assertion, then the Bible is making that assertion. But that assertion is not true, in light of later revelation.

      Enns is asserting that the early OT writers are not saying something like “there are these statutes and alleged entities that other nations call gods, but we know that they are not gods, but we use the word “god” simply because they do and we are writing as if from from their perspective in order to make a point. But we really know that there are no other gods, and that there is only one god.” Enns is saying, I think, that that sort of reasoning can only be made on this side of God’s further revelation. Those early patriarchs did not and could not reason like that. Therefore, when the patriarchs said that there were other gods, they meant that other gods existed–there was a class of beings labelled “gods”, and that Yahweh was part of this class, and that Yahweh was their own particular national god, and that Yahweh was a stronger deity than the other deities.

      • Daniel Fisher

        Much more I could write, let me give one specific clarification: I do NOT understand Peter’s language (“gods are gods”) to simply be a caricature or stereotype of the typical inerrantist position: Let me explain:
        1. There are unquestionably statements in the OT that speak about the existence in some form or fashion of other gods. (what we’ll call “apparently henotheistic” statements). this is not disputed.
        2. These henotheistic statements only conflict with monotheistic statements of the OT and NT if and only if they are taken strictly literally (i.e., “gods are gods.”) If they are understood in any way other than strictly literally, there is simply no conflict. This is the way most inerrantists/fundamentalists/conservatives understand these statements – as not absolutely or strictly literal.
        3. Peter sees an undeniable contradiction between these henotheistic statements and other monotheistic statements. but this contradiction can only exist if the henotheistic statements are read strictly literally.
        4. Ergo, I must conclude that Peter must be understanding the apparently henotheistic statements of the OT in a strictly literal way (i.e., “gods are gods.”).

        In other words, if Peter were to allow that “gods” doesn’t always mean “gods”, then there is simply no conflict with all those otherwise clearly monotheistic passages after all. But for there to be a conflict requires a strictly literal understanding of “gods are gods.”

        Now, if Peter wants to clarify, and state that it is perfectly legitimate for the OT reader not to interpret “gods” in these passages in a strictly literal way, I will gladly stand corrected.

        • peteenns

          Daniel, J, Inglis read me correctly. Your chain of reasoning above is a bit convoluted and I don’t feel it would be profitable to parse it.

          Do you think all statements about others gods, pantheons, divine councils, etc. (as in the examples I cite in the post) are only “apparent henotheism?” If so, I don’t really know how to address such an awkward misreading of Scripture. If not–if there are in fact actual henotheistic passages that actual describe how Israel thought, that Yahweh is one God among many, though reigning over them–how do you escape the charge of saying the Bible has “contradictory” views on Israel’s God?

          By the way, you use the word “contradictory” above even though (if I remember correctly) I didn’t. You seem to be particularly bothered by the idea, which brings us back to your earlier musings about CHR not giving a contradictory account of Israel.

          So let me ask: are contradictions theoretically permissible for you in your theology of the Bible, or are actual contradictions a threat to our faith and need to be explained in some other way?

          If the former, I think you should be clearer. If the latter, It would help some of us to know that too.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Sorry if I was convoluted there – in short, one needs to read the OT henotheistic passages as meaning, literally, “gods means gods”, otherwise, there is simply no problem to discuss. While I disagree, I fully respect your educated and researched perspective on the topic – but I think we can agree that your perspective does require a strictly literal understanding of these passages (i.e., “gods means gods”). I am quite happy to stand corrected if I have misunderstood.

            Now, the question you asked is a false dilemma – no, contradictions are not theoretically possible for my baseline theology of the Bible, but no, neither would actual contradictions be a threat to my (our) faith. Hypothetically, I would have no particular difficulty with the faith of one like C.S. Lewis, very firmly convicted about historic Christian truths and authority and direct inspiration of the Bible but believed he saw minor contradictions and mistakes in the Bible – he had a great appreciation for the overarching authority of Scripture but with nothing approaching a strict view of inerrancy. I don’t have a categorical problem with this view, I simply don’t share it.

            I have my own views of inerrancy, but as far as humanly possible, I try to put those outside of my mind when examining such questions as these, and attempt – realizing that it is ultimately impossible to completely distance ones self from his or her presuppositions – but still try to analyze these items as objectively as possible.

            As for my issue with “contradictions” in this context – I have a serious problem when anyone, particularly a critical scholar, concludes a contradiction when there remain unexplored and uninvestigated possibilities. This seems to me downright un-critical. Granted, my conviction about inerrancy does make me very, very slow to conclude a contradiction when there are still other unexplored avenues and possibilities – but this is a habit sorely lacking in most critical scholarship. Concluding a contradiction or error when other options remain unexplored and uninvestigated is to stifle genuine inquiry and block the path to further knowledge.

            For example, I take issue with the claim of contradictions between Sam/Kings and Chronicles based on their differing choices of what to record, just as strongly as I would if someone claimed a similar contradiction for similar reasons between, say, Thucydides and Herodotus. Different does not mean contradictory, whether in the Bible or any other context. If, hypothetically, Thucydides and Herodotus recorded the same general event, but recorded differing facts so as to give very different impressions or evaluations – I would take issue with anyone who simply claimed that as contradictory. Not in the spirit of inerrancy, but in the spirit of genuine, open minded inquiry.

            Take the other issue in Chronicles (changing God to Satan), a perfect example to me – There seem all sorts of possibilities, things we could learn about the Chronicler’s nuanced understanding of theology, spirits, how God’s providence works, how he uses spiritual agents – and not trying to force on him some later developed NT theology – but strictly learning to understand his own perspective – especially given his use of 1Kings22, not to mention the earlier OT writings – but most critical scholarship sees his change from “God” to “Satan,” and rather than explore the countless possibilities of sophisticated and nuanced theological perspectives, from which we might actually learn something – they simply conclude an unsophisticated, intentional fudge or contradiction on his part.

            And thus, critical scholarship in that case cuts off any possibility of further knowledge, any potential to grow in discovery, understanding, or appreciation of the Chronicler’s nuanced theology about providence, predestination, God’s use of spirits as agents, etc. And I am left to conclude, if the Chronicler did have a nuanced theological justification for that change, this critical method seems incapable of discovering it.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Briefly, in response to your other question – I have absolutely no issue with the OT language or idea of divine councils, pantheons, other gods, etc. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…”
            After all, Jesus and Satan certainly seemed to have a divine counsel of sorts, where Satan at least seemed good with the idea that he should be understood as a god that should be worshiped… Add Satan to the growing list of people guilty of this same ad hoc argument that the OT “gods” might simply be demons….! ;)

            Now this requires evangelicals to allow the way the OT speaks about such things to better inform their theology and understanding of the way that God works with heavenly powers, but no, I don’t conclude from any of this that it is best understood as strictly henotheistic – Yahweh certainly absolutely and categorically above the other spirits in these contexts, and jealous of being worshipped alone – There is the divine counsel with Satan present in Job, but Job still understands that regardless of all, “The Lord gave and took away…” plus the other beings don’t have any authorization or permission in any sense to be worshiped. This is not henotheism as I understand the use of the term, rather, this is a divine counsel with the supreme being far more supreme than the others, even such that worship can and should only be given to the supreme being alone. (now, granted, if we’re talking about Israel’s actual practices, and not what the Bible actually teaches/embraces/authorizes/endorses/approves, then of course there was plenty of henotheism going on.)

            Of course, remember that I don’t understand the language of “gods” in the OT in a woodenly, strictly literalistic manner incapable of any nuance or flexibility…. I’m not a fundamentalist, after all… ;)

  • crb

    Peter, is there a book you could recommend that more fully sets forth this view of Scripture, suitable for a general non-academic audience?

  • Daniel Fisher

    Peter, would you be able here to address briefly a bit more of your reading of Deuteronomy 32:8? My Hebrew is very rusty. My BHS shows “elyon” there in the text – a quick search on that word through the rest of the OT shows the word used either as a general adjective for “very high/exalted”, or used as what appears as an adjectival name for God (i.e., ‘the most high’).

    Is the idea that whenever in the OT that the word “elyon” appears and which obviously is referring to God/a god, that it is referring to the “high God Elyon” as a distinct being from Yahweh? In the case of Melchizedek, and/or in every case in the OT?

    Alternately, can you recommend the better articles and/or commentaries you would recommend to further unpack this discussion?

    • peteenns

      As an adj. it can mean exalted or “upper” (a gate), but as a noun as it is here in Deut. 32:8, it is a divine title. Elyon is a Ugaritic title for their high god El. Deut 32:8 is one of those places where (following the LXX and DSS, which almost certainly preserve the harder, original reading), Elyon is distinct from Yahweh–Yahweh’s inheritance is Israel, received from Elyon, the head of the pentheon. Elsewhere in the OT, more frequently, Elyon/El are applied to Israel’s God as in the Melkezedik story, which may suggest some sort of merging of the two. Really, studying these divine names in Israel vis-a-vis ANE can makes one’s head spin.

      • Daniel Fisher

        Very much appreciate the additional thoughts – if I may follow up – what are the other parts of the OT where at least some see Elyon as distinct from Yahweh?
        Additionally, and I’m sure it is complex, but could you give me the quick version of why Elyon in Deut 32 is not understood as applied to Israel’s God, like in the Melkezedik story or others? I don’t see immediately why it must be understood in this context as a reference to the larger god and not just the same usage applied to Yahweh as in other parts of the OT.

        With my absolute and complete unfamiliarity with Ugaritic, you might easily correct me here – but just speculating, there are plenty of words that have crossover between ANE languages, I imagine (I’m always amazed at some words that end up somehow being the same over languages as divergent as English and Japanese). Does Ugaritic use Elyon strictly as a name for their god, or is it, like as it was adapted (either from or to?) Hebrew mean “exalted/upper,” and like Hebrew, it is used as an adjective about their god or perhaps an adjectival noun, or is it strictly a title?

        • Richard Worden Wilson

          Hummm, there are the lexical issues, complexifying things, of course, but if one takes Deut 32 as a whole it is fairly plain (but surely not inerrantly so!) that El Elyon is a “honorific” title applied to Yahweh rather than another. Beyond that, Pete, “gods” that are in the same text said to be “not gods” aren’t really to be considered gods by the author(s) are they? Come on, it isn’t just fundamentalists that can proof text, is it? 8>)

          • Daniel Fisher

            Wow, just wow. Teaches me to read the larger context… I’d read about that potential “Elyon=higher god” interpretation years ago, but never bothered studying the simple context of Deuteronomy 32… Now, besides the pretty obvious and repeated emphasis on specifying that these other gods are not gods, which should make us seriously, *ahem*, “critical” of the “other god” interpretation in v. 8……

            EVEN THE AUTHOR OF DEUTERONOMY IN THIS VERY TEXT MAKES THE “AD HOC” ARGUMENT THAT THEY “SACRIFICED TO DEMONS THAT WERE NO GODS”!!!!!

            I’m finding these “ad hoc” arguments now throughout both the Old and New Testaments… how many, exactly, do I need to find before this is considered a “biblical,” rather than an “ad hoc” argument…..?
            ;)

            Thanks for this simple observation. Very helpful.

          • peteenns

            Daniel, it’s been a pleasure. You seem to have figured these things out to your satisfaction and I’ll leave you to it.

        • Cash

          Daniel,

          I strongly encourage you to read Mark Smith’s Early History of God and/or God in Translation, as he expounds upon many historic developmental issues which can catch you up to speed.

          Best,

  • http://www.godconversations.com/ Tania Harris

    Brilliant

  • tearfang

    Love the topic. I read that book earlier this year so I
    enjoyed your blog post.

    (1) My biggest question from your post is: Are the books of
    the bible scripture, bc they are in the bible or are they included in the bible
    bc they are scripture?
    And its follow up: How then dose one decide that the
    bible is indeed divine revelation?

    As I understand your post, you criticize the epistemic methodology
    some of the inerrantis practice. e.g. a definition first view of divine revelation
    as a priori including inerrancy, and instead promote a descriptive methodology
    to defining scripture. My issue with defining scripture as whatever the books
    of the bible do- is that it seems to beg the question. How do you know the
    bible scripture in the first place? Could it be that the verses which describe
    it as scripture are in error? With a definition first approach the scriptures
    can be examined to see if they measure up, and rejected if their claim to being
    scripture falls short of reality. You say they fall short of inerrancy, and
    that we should define our model of scripture from what the bible does, but doesn’t
    this make any claim that the bible is scripture a meaningless truism? What
    logical path do I follow to become Christian under your view? Or is it just
    blind faith?

    Some other questions:
    (2) Given an a priori inerrancy view of scripture presumably you’d
    advocate either rejecting the bible wholesale or kicking some books out. Pivoting to your more inclusive view, are there are books which should be added to the bible?

    (3) If the books of the bible contain errors like any other
    books, how should I treat what they tell me to do differently than any other
    book?

    Presumably if I disagree with it on any particular point, I
    must judge that point to be in error. And if I’m unsure I must label it as
    potential erroneous. Perhaps, I boost its chances of being true by some amount
    so there is a presumption of true until shown false. Kinda like innocent until
    proven guilty, but how big should that boost be? Good or bad, ultimately, it
    seems to me under your model rational persuasion is the only source of actionable authority the bible has to alter my behavior.

    • Guest

      I know this is for Enns but I thought I would leave a comment.

      1. The books of the Bible are included in the Bible because they are scripture and not the other way around. We know this from how the canon developed. In antiquity there were no “books” as we tend to think of them. The first codex appears around the 1st century. All scriptural texts were separated on various different scrolls. These various texts had gained authority in the community already and were considered scripture before there was any official codex called “the Bible.”

      2. As for how we know what is scripture—I don’t think there is any way around the issue of trust and faith. For example, we are trusting that Jeremiah received an actual prophetic message from God that the scribe Baruch accurately wrote down. We are trusting the witness of the Gospels that they actually saw, touched, heard Jesus. Also, there are some things in scripture that can never be scientifically proven to be true, and so have to be taken on faith. I appreciate what Scot McKnight said once. He was a historical Jesus scholar for a long time. He finally came to a place where he realized that even if we can prove that a man named Jesus lived and died in the 1st century, we can never prove that Jesus died *for our sins.* We are trusting the witnesses of others on this. But rationalism is skeptical of trusting testimony.

      I would also say we know scripture is true because we see its truth manifest. Scripture says to test the prophets to see if what they say is true. If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, for example, we would expect that to be tangible evidence of the Spirit in a person’s life. We would also expect to see around us evidence of God bringing life to that which is dead. The truth that scripture witnesses to is not just historical events, but spiritual realities that we can participate in now. The Spirit testifies and acts in the present.

      The work of the Spirit in the community is really important too. The scriptures were included into the canon because they were formative for the community and respected as authoritative by the community.

      • tearfang

        Thanks for your comment. Interesting stuff.

        1. I also think that is the correct answer, but it necessarily then raises my follow-up questions above like: How then does one decide that a book is indeed divine revelation and belongs in the bible?

        2.1 “we can never prove that Jesus died *for our sins.*” prove, seem an unreasonably high bar to me… I’d settle for being reasonably sure of :p

        It certainly involves some trust. Most apologetics I’ve read argue that we have reasons for that trust; evidence that the witnesses are trustworthy and knowledgeable about the topic and also argue in various ways that their testimony was approved of, or in a way, notarized by God, resurrection miracles etc. Perhaps this is their definition of scripture, but I’ve never heard an argument for scripture being like that… I suspect bc the definition is too broad, and people have narrower views of scripture.

        2.2 “If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, for example, we would expect that to be tangible evidence of the Spirit in a person’s life.”
        I in theory I agree that the moral consequence of the teachings of a book play into whether something can be considered divine revelation from god. Assuming (or having established this as likely through some kind of natural theology) that God is good, it is reasonable to expect authentic divine revelation will result in improved behavior. In practice this is hard to apply. I have to engage in counterfactual speculation about how good/bad others and I would have been if we had embraced/rejected a book as scripture.

        Catholics, Protestants and Mormons all have different sets of scripture… For this to be a sufficient criterion I’d have to be able to identify the holier group of people who are by definition right. Maybe someone can design some study controlling for all other factors except acceptance/rejection of those books as scripture and use that to decide which collection of scriptures is correct? I guess I think it is a necessary but insufficient, and devilishly difficult criterion to apply- in all but the most extreme examples.

        • Guest

          How do we decide which books are divine revelation? I sort of answer this in another comment I just left for you above (re: not needing to draw complete boundaries and the purpose of scripture to spiritually edify). But from a historical perspective, at least with prophecy, in the ancient Near East, prophets were considered authoritative for relaying the message of God–not just in Israel but in general. These prophecies were treated with varying levels of respect and used for varying purposes depending on the nation. For example, a lot of ANE prophecies had to line up with the purposes of the king. Nobody better bring any bad news. The biblical prophetic oracles are somewhat different in their emphasis on confronting the ruling establishment. But, anyway, going back to what is considered divine–if we consider Scripture (at least in part) is the result of prophetic oracle, then the authority was originally affirmed by the acknowledgment that a particular prophet was a true prophet and not a false one.

          Neo-Assyrian prophecies were written down at the time the prophecy was given and then later collected onto one tablet. Presumably they were preserved and archived because they were considered authoritative and could be referenced if needed. Similarly, the biblical prophetic books are made up of oracles that have been collected together. The oracles that survived and were collected were considered authoritative–again because the prophet that gave the oracle was deemed reliable for transmitting the divine message.

          This would be true for Moses as a prophet. And Jesus as a prophet. Jesus was considered authoritative by his followers and thus his teachings were recorded and preserved and deemed worth following and obeying.

          So it seems to me the question really goes back to the issue of prophets before we ever get to written texts. This is especially true because the Scriptures were recorded in an oral culture. In other words much of Scripture was authoritative in an oral format before it was ever written down.

          Of course there are many prophets in many different religions all claiming truth. The question is, then, how do we determine a prophet is true? We can ask this question of Mormons, for example. The issue of Mormonism is not primarily one of canon. They accept the Protestant canon. Rather the issue with the additional Mormon sacred texts that were added in modern times is about prophecy. Joseph Smith was recognized as an authoritative prophet by some people. The question then is not so much about canon and scripture, but whether or not Joseph was a true or false prophet. That determination then dictates whether or not his recorded teachings (scripture) are valid.

          In the Old Testament, the people were encouraged to distinguish between true and false prophets and to take false prophecy very seriously. Some prophecy was determined false if it didn’t come true. But a lot of prophecy was not predictive, it had to do with religious instruction. And so, bad prophecy according to both OT and NT authors was to be discerned by checking to see if the prophet was telling people to go against accepted teaching. For the Israelites, did the prophet tell people to worship other gods in contradiction to Mosaic Law? Then he was false. In the N.T. the spirits of the prophets are to be “tested” to see if they contradict the teaching of Jesus and the gospel of his death and resurrection (see I John 4)

          PS: One last thing–I distinguish between the fruit of the Spirit and ethical behavior alone. Certainly the fruit of the Spirit results in ethical behavior and that is a major piece. But lots of non-Christians act in ethical and good ways. So having the Holy Spirit is more than just being a “good” person. There is a supernatural quality to it. I would be hard pressed to get into defining that, but I think part of it relates to spiritual enlightenment and the ability to see reality from God’s perspective. The Holy Spirit gives the ability to discern, for example, between true and false prophecy. And also there is some kind of regeneration that is happening progressively in a person who has the H.S. I think theosis is a helpful concept.

    • peteenns

      Tearfang, a wonderful, accessible, and somewhat paradigm-shifting book on the historical process of canonization is by Craig Allert http://www.amazon.com/High-View-Scripture-Evangelical-Ressourcement-ebook/dp/B00B856366/ref=sr_1_31?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406808099&sr=1-31&keywords=bible+canon

      How and why the canon appeared is a complex historical phenomenon.

      • tearfang

        Interesting rec. I see how this relates as interesting background material and relates to my questions, from the description though it doesn’t sound like it attempts answers to my questions…

        I’ve read a couple books on the canonization of the NT. Those books, and from the Amazon reviews, also this book, focuses much more on the *how* than the why the cannon appeared. To me, the why, is the more interesting question.

        For instance, is church history the only appropriate criterion for deciding between the competing Catholic and Protestant claims on the canonical status of Maccabees etc? If the documents themselves are potentially erroneous, then how much more so the selection process of said documents? Even if we agree on what the early church leaders had to say on the matter, how do we know if they got it right?

        • peteenns

          The how and the why are not totally separate. I think you might enjoy the book. Certainly he gives no simplistic answers. If it helps, a former colleague of mine at WTS chided me for recommending this book :-)

          • Brian P.

            One certainly can’t get enough chiders in one’s life.

          • Daniel Merriman

            “Biblical Scholarship” = open to learning from books like Law’s (The Septauginit really has been grossly understudied, so there would be lots to learn for most card carrying members of OT and NT faculties).

            “Evangelical Biblical Scholarship”= wishing Law would go away.

        • Mark K

          I’m just finishing Law’s book now–got it based on the interview Pete did. It has some fascinating stuff on the difference between the canon and >scripture< especially in the patristic period. Not a difficult read, and many insights worth considering.

          • tearfang

            “difference between the canon and >scripture<" hrm interesting, what is the difference? I know that some of the early church fathers considered books which didn't make it into the canon scripture, like shepherd of hermas. My understanding though, has been that one's view of what deserves to be called scripture is synonymous with what one believes deserves to be included in the canon. Are you suggesting defs of canon and scripture in a non-synonymous relationship, like say, all canon is scripture but not all scripture is canon relationship, or perhaps 'canon within a canon' all scripture is canon but not all canon is scripture relationship?

          • Mark K

            Yes, Law suggests that in the Patristic era (and he contends, perhaps up until the Reformation!) the question of what constituted authoritative writings–scripture–was much more open. But as the church sought to interact, mostly apologetically, both with non-Christian Jews and with others they contended with, that the adoption of a common body of writings–canon–became essential to their cause. I don’t have the background to give the line of reasoning the nuance that Law does, but I can say it’s pretty interesting stuff. I recommend giving it a read.

        • Karen

          tearfang, this is an interesting question. My own sense is that the Reformation decision not to include Maccabees (as well as Jerome’s earlier concern) had to do with a perception that since Scripture came through the Jewish people that Jews “did it the right way.” So the Masoretic canon was “correct.” This also happened with some biblical scholars around interpretation, like Nicholas of Lyra. They believed Jewish scholars were more “literal” and therefore “correct” in their interpretation, primarily because Jews were associated with Jesus and scripture itself. Also, the Reformation was influenced by the Renaissance and the desire to get back to the “pristine” and “original” or “classical” texts. For Luther that meant the Hebrew, and thus the Hebrew canon and not the Septuagint.

          Personally, I think the fixation on drawing exact boundaries of the canon–that is having to pick and choose between the Masoretic canon vs. Septuagint or a blend, is unnecessary. The New Testament writers used both Greek and Hebrew scriptural sources. Augustine was also comfortable saying both the Hebrew and Greek were true simultaneously even with their textual variants since they were both inspired. But, I think our modernist tendency is to want “one right” singular box to check.

          Its also interesting to consider that different texts even within the canon were used more for faith and practice. At Qumran and in the NT Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Psalms were the most popular. And the writings and the prophets were understood to be reinforcing and encouraging the following of Torah. I am not arguing for a “canon within a canon” but simply noting that different texts were considered more pressing than others. Ben Sira understands the Writings as being for spiritual edification, and I think that is a helpful way for thinking about canon more broadly. Drawing hard and fast lines between the Masoretic or Septuagint canons misses the point that some of these texts are for spiritual edification–encouragement to keep practicing the faith–and in that sense the boundaries for edification can be a little more blurred. In other words some Scripture is for reinforcing and encouraging obedience to pre-existing doctrine rather than teaching new doctrine. Even Martin Luther seemed to understand this to some extent because in his initial German Bible he retained the deuterocanonical books in the printing even though he labeled them apocrypha. He printed them because he still found them edifying and good for Christians to read.

      • Daniel Merriman

        A very good recent book that is not concerned about coloring within confessional lines: When God Spoke Greek by Timothy Michael Law.

  • Andrew

    I have a question. Wayne Grudem told me that part of being a member of ETS involves agreeing to inerrancy as defined by the CBSI. Is that true? If it is, were you still a member when that was true or is that why you left?

  • Seraphim Hamilton

    I would refer to Benjamin Sommer’s (certainly no fundamentalist) treatment of the monotheism vs. henotheism vs. polytheism issue in the appendix to “The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel” for a good analysis of the issue. He takes the view of Michael Heiser that YHWH in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is identical to Elyon. YHWH parses out the nations to various members of the divine council but reserves Israel for himself. The question, then, is not “are these gods really gods”, but rather “what does the word ‘god’” mean to an ancient Israelite? I think the book is pretty open and shut that it’s not equivalent to what we mean by “God”, given especially that the ghost of Samuel is called a “god.” Heiser argues that its meaning is roughly “being that inhabits the spiritual realm.” So YHWH is one god among many, but He is “species-unique” across the biblical literature.

    • hashavyahu

      Sommer’s discussion is interesting, but it hardly represents scholarly consensus. In fact, I would guess he included it as an appendix precisely because it represents an idiosyncratic view.

      • peteenns

        Although let me say that Elyon in Deut 32:8 = YHWH is not an immediately apparent “bad” reading. Not at all. I do object, though, to the idea that it can mean nothing else, since the Bible doesn’t include contradictions, keeps nits distance from the ANE world, etc. I’ve benefitted from Heiser, but gods certainly meant more to the ancient Israelites than “being that inhabited the spiritual realm” iff by that anyone means less that “gods.” And YWHW is indeed supreme for the Israelites, in the same way Chemosh was supreme for the Moabites.

        • Seraphim Hamilton

          How would you define “god” for an ancient Israelite, esp. considering 1 Samuel 28:13? Certainly the gods of the nations were understood as “real” beings. And that view didn’t die out after the exile- Arnobius, a Christian writer of the second-century, says that the persecutions arose because Christianity provoked the wrath of the Roman gods! I think the fundamental question is how the biblical authors viewed YHWH vis-a-vis the gods of the nations. IMO, they viewed YHWH as ontologically superior to the other gods, rather than just being the patron deity of Israel.

          • peteenns

            Different Israelite traditions defined “god” differently–(though “ontologically” different wasn’t like a category). What make you think that there has to be one understandiung of god/s in the OT?

        • Daniel Fisher

          The point he raised about the ghost of Samuel being called a god certainly seems to support the idea that the word “god” (elohim) was in fact applied to a simple “being that inhabited the spiritual realm” which was less than a strict pantheon-inhabiting”god”. Given 1sam 28, I’m not seeing how this is even disputable.

      • Seraphim Hamilton

        Undoubtedly so. But I’m not particularly bothered by that.

    • Daniel Fisher

      This is very helpful, and seems most consistent with what is throughout the OT, the term ‘god’ meaning any inhabitant of the spiritual/supernatural realm, either real or imaginary. Of course, by that definition, the supreme Triune God is one of many, even if in a class by himself. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there is nuance with the words where, depending on context, Yahweh is held as an eve more true and real God, and by comparison there is no other god, at least none like him.
      Interesting insight about the ghost of Samuel, I need to go look that one up as well.
      Thanks for this: another book to add to my reading list.

      • Seraphim Hamilton
        • Daniel Fisher

          Free? Even better. Thanks again for these great insights.

          I read over the Samuel “ghost/god” thing, I’d never noticed that before – how much more clear could it be then, that elohim can be used as a generic word for any spiritual/noncorporeal entity, and does not have to mean literal “god” in each and every case? This makes the flexibility of the word quite abundantly clear.

          • https://brown.academia.edu/StephenYoung Stephen

            So Daniel, elohim (among other words) has a potentially wide semantic range, or as you say ‘flexibility.’ How do you go about identifying the particular meaning for particular usages of the word?

          • Daniel Fisher

            One word: context.

            That is, after all, the same way we identify the particular meaning for English words each and every day, no?

          • https://brown.academia.edu/StephenYoung Stephen

            Indeed, context, just as we go about interpreting anything (including in English, as you say). So you’re saying that you interpret and analyze the Bible, including identification of its words’ meanings, in the same way you do other writings?

          • Daniel Fisher

            But of course I would… Does this surprise you?

  • gandfs

    Please, help me with this comment:

    I don’t think the gods of the ancient Near East exist, nor did our God ever preside over a heavenly board meeting, nor was he ever under the authority Elyon.

    I do believe, however, that the ancient Israelites believed that, but that does not mean that their belief at this moment in redemptive history represents absolute “spiritual reality” so to speak.

    This is not troubling to me, but then I ask: So, how do we accept as “reality” the gospels? I believe that the disciples BELIEVED Jesus was risen, but perhaps that is merely their impression of what happened rather than something historically/literally true. If the rule applies to the OT, why not the NT?

    • peteenns

      I appreciate the question. It’s very common (and for that reason a good one).

      I don’t believe every claim in every portion of the Bible has equal, binding weight. There is no slippery slope here, but a matter of making reasonable distinctions as we are always doing anyway whether we know it or not based on topic, genre, purpose, and other matters that come to the front whenever we interpret the Bible. In this case, a divine council, a heavenly pantheon, is a well documented part of Israel’s ANE cultural “language” for understanding the inaccessible divine realm–similarly, Israel’s cosmology is heavily informed by ANE ideas. In the case of Jesus and his resurrection–and Gospels as literature in general–we are dealing with a quite different type of literary expression and event: there here and now (more or less) and not the “up there and back then.”

      Now, just to be clear: that doesn’t prove anything about the resurrection. I’m not offering a cheap “proof” here. But treating the two issues you raise as fundamentally the same simply because they are both in the Bible is I think the wrong starting point.

      • gandfs

        So… your argument is that the gospels purport to be actual accounts, whereas the ancient near east accounts merely purport to be human reflections on their interactions with the divine? I’m not looking for “proof” about the resurrection, but I do want to understand how I can gently set aside ANE language about God but embrace wholehearted first-century language about God.

        • peteenns

          No, that’s not really what I said, but close enough.

        • J. Inglis

          What I see scholars and writers like Enns doing, is carefully looking at the internal clues of the Bible, with reference to their external context. And, on the basis of this, making reasonable distinctions.

          So, for example, the ancient Israelites wrote in the context of an accepted, and seemingly obvious to them, cosmology in which the sky was bounded by a hard dome, with doors, outside of which gods lived. The points the Biblical writers made had to be made within the context they lived–if they were to make points about the sky, and gods, they had to do it in relation to contemporary descriptions thereof. If they were to be selfconsciously technical about it, they could have said, “given these assumptions (about physical and spiritual realities), here are the conclusions we draw and here are the new things that God has revealed that cannot be deduced simply from looking at the phenomena”. They didn’t have our western selfconscious concern about vantage point and third person objectivity and removing bias, so they just wrote.

          Now compare that to gospel writers and their assertions about Jesus. In a context where messiahs don’t die, where the son of god and son of man is not shamefully crucified, where (obviously) people don’t come back from the dead, where beings with physical bodies cannot be worshipped like Yahweh–they wrote that Jesus came back from the dead, that he was indeed the messiah of God, that he was to be worshipped like God.

          So those conclusions about Jesus (and others), conclusions critical to our faith, were not ones that naturally flowed from a second temple cosmology and view of reality and view of God. They were startling new and contrary and divergent from all of that.

          Hence, while the disciples might still have believed in a cosmological dome over the earth, and chaotic waters surrounding it (or whatever cosmology was by that time) because of their embedment / being embedded in the culture of their time, they would not have come to their beliefs about Jesus in the same way.

          That is, gandfs question arises because of an invalid conflation of the two situations and the statements that were being made by writers in those two situations. Where an assumption or assertion flows from then current cultural knowledge of physical reality, we can discount it in so far as we have a better understanding of that reality. But where an assertion flows from something that is entirely inconsistent with then current cultural knowledge, we have to pay attention and cannot similarly discount it.

          ANE beliefs about other gods and other spiritual beings are part of the former set. Their “impressions” (to quote gandfs) flowed from their received assumptions about physical and spiritual reality. The disciples’ views about Jesus and his works, significance and divinity are part of the latter set. Their “impressions” did not flow from their received assumptions about reality. The disciples views about Jesus could not have, and did not, simply come from their then current understanding of reality.

          Therefore, one cannot make the simplistic and direct move from discounting ANE Israelite beliefs to discounting the disciples beliefs–the bases for the one are entirely different from the other and the reasoning does not transfer from one situation to the other. And so, it is not possible to conclude that “the disciples BELIEVED Jesus was risen, but perhaps that is merely their impression of what happened rather than something historically/literally true.” simply on the basis of what we have concluded about some ANE beliefs about gods.

          • peteenns

            Thanks for taking the time to express my thinking so well! One quibble, though, not to muddy the waters. The idea of a Jewish messiah rising then and there was utterly foreign, but in Greco-Roman myth, the resurrection (in some sense at least) of a hero was not. Others here I’m sure know more about this than I do, but it raises some interesting points of discussion. For me, I continue to think of the res. of X as a matter of faith, and Lewis’s notion of “myth made real” continues to be intriguing to me.

          • J. Inglis

            I’m glad to see that I’m getting what you’re saying. I find your blog very helpful for provoking, in helpful ways, my ability to think about problematic issues in the Bible. Though I’m not American, and so find the strenuousness hatefulness of the American fight over “inerancy” a bit over the top and foreign, the underlying issues are common to Christians the world over and throughout time.

          • Robert

            Peter Enns – Are you certain that “the idea of a Jewish messiah rising then and there was utterly foreign”? Are you aware of this archeological finding that appears to indicate otherwise? What are your thoughts on this finding: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/world/middleeast/06stone.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

          • peteenns

            Wow, very interesting. A couple of things, though. This article is from 2008. Has the text been further verified and looked at by scholars? Second, the disciples in the Gospel stories clearly had no clue about this kind of messiah.

          • Robert

            Peter, actually the disciples did have a clue about this kind of messiah. In Matthew 27:63, the Pharisees remind Pilate of what Jesus said when he was alive: “After three days I will rise again.” Certainly the disciples would have heard him make this claim.

            Historically, the argument is that based on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other texts, that the notion of a “suffering messiah” was not an early Christian invention but was around at least as early as the 1st century BCE in certain Jewish sectarian circles and sects. Therefore, this was an existing idea that Jesus referenced and applied to himself. This new tablet/text referencing a resurrection after 3 days adds weight to this theory. The following article references some scholarly research along these lines: http://jamestabor.com/2008/05/18/israel-knohl-article-on-gabriel-text-published/

            This new tablet/text is known as “Gabriel’s Revelation” and a Google search finds more recent articles and it appears to me that the debate is not the about the authenticity of the text but it’s translation. Some scholars think it says: “by 3 days – live” vs. “by 3 days – a sign.” Prof. Knohl (the original translator) has changed his own opinion on this, yet the debate continues.

            Peter, do you have any additional thoughts?

          • peteenns

            Very interesting. Tabor is a great source. I’ll look more into this. Personally, I need to see a bit more before I feel comfortable suggesting that the resurrection of a messiah was known, let alone common, but I’m all ears. But as for Matt 27:63, this doesn’t mean the idea was known but only that it was heard that Jesus said it–and we would also need to leave open the notion that is part of the Gospel writer’s framing of the Jesus story.

            Thanks for the link.

          • Robert

            Peter – If you like Tabor, he wrote further on in this topic in 2013, as follows. Be sure to read to the end for Tabor’s own conclusions: http://jamestabor.com/2013/04/30/the-gabriel-stone-on-display-some-revised-interpretations/

            Clearly, Jesus applied other existing ideas about the messiah to himself, for example in Luke 4:16-21. Personally, that Jesus would apply to himself additional contemporary ideas about the messiah (such as a resurrection referenced in “Gabriel’s Revelation”) doesn’t seem like a stretch to me. Further, I don’t see how Jesus doing so would diminish his message or uniqueness anymore than does him applying other prophecies to himself, for example Isaiah 61:1.

            Also, doesn’t Luke say that on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained how other prophecies were actually about himself and speak as if the disciples should have known these things? Luke 4:26-27: “‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

            Peter, after you’ve looked more into this topic, I’d be interested in reading your further thoughts. Perhaps you can write a blog post here on the subject!

          • peteenns

            I agree with your thoughts here, Robert. I’ll read Tabor soon. All of this falls into that larger conundrum (for conservative Xians, at least), “What makes Jesus ‘unique.?’” Whatever it is, it’s not what we sometimes think, which often involves distancing Jesus from his own Judaism.

          • Robert

            Thanks for your replies, Peter. A final thought, which I just added in an edit above: Doesn’t Luke say that on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained how other prophecies were actually about himself and speak as if the disciples should have known these things? Luke 4:26-27: “‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Thanks again for the discussion, Peter.

      • Daniel Fisher

        This is very interesting to me – if I read you right, we can be more certain about historicity about the brute facts that Jesus did say and do certain things, as they are in the “here and now” realm, and in a genre that purports at some level to be historical rather than mythical. I think I follow the logic of your reasoning there.

        My concern, though, is that part of the historical record in the gospels involves Jesus’ views and teachings of what happens (or will happen) in the “inaccessible divine realm.”

        So, why exactly do we trust what Jesus said when he spoke about things “up there”, since just like the authors of the OT books, he was “heavily informed by [in this case 1st century Jewish] ideas”, just expressing his own cultural language for understanding the inaccessible divine realm? How do we determine that his own views of that “inaccessible divine realm” was any more reliable, actual, or factual than that of Moses, the Chronicler, or whoever else wrote the various parts of the OT?

  • SteveD

    On distinguishing between texts shaped by ancient cosmology and the NT’s claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, we have one simple literary element that makes the difference crystal clear. The Gospels and Acts have people going on record as being witnesses. Given Jewish rules about eyewitnesses these people are putting their whole reputation on the line by claiming “and we are witnesses”. If Jesus’ resurrection or least his resurrection appearances are simply ancient mythological expressions then the NT’s truthfulness is deeply compromised. On the other hand, when my daughter was 8 years old she asked me, “Daddy, who was there to watch the creation and write it down?” Pretty wise question! Issues of origins and heavenly cosmology are in principle off limits to eyewitnesses. They can only be glimpsed through inspired imagination.

  • NotSoSilentBob

    You were brave to go there(ETS/NEAS). I’ve presented at a few of these meetings, carefully choosing my topics to be historical and not theological so that the inerrancy issue is silently eroding in the background. Alas. Surviving by quietly walking with my canon within the canon and proper Christian education pedigree may not be sufficient much longer. Too much money seems to be flowing into building massive edifices of preternatural pseudo-science (and more) for me to maintain my conscience while merely observing fundamentalism destroy the future of our faith. I was actually approached to run one of these side-shows last year. Mamon didn’t win. You give me courage, especially after reading of your troubles. Thank you.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X